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The Quran => Q&As with Joseph Islam - Information Only => : Reader Questions December 22, 2013, 02:14:47 AM

: Just Retribution
: Reader Questions December 22, 2013, 02:14:47 AM
Salam Joseph,

First off, I'd like to say that I enjoy your writing a lot.

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about verse 2:178.  The part that confuses me is the following: "the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female."

Muhammad Asad had interesting explanation, but I'm not sure if he "proved" his argument; he writes:

"Read in conjunction with the term "just retribution" which introduces this passage, it is clear that the stipulation "the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman" cannot - and has not been intended to - be taken in its literal, restrictive sense: for this would preclude its application to many cases of homicide, e.g., the killing of a free man by a slave, or of a woman by a man, or vice-versa. Thus, the above stipulation must be regarded as an example of the elliptical mode of expression (ijaz) so frequently employed in the Qur'an, and can have but one meaning, namely: "if a free man has committed the crime, the free man must be punished; if a slave has committed the crime. ..", etc.-in other words, whatever the status of the guilty person, he or she (and he or she alone) is to be punished in a manner appropriate to the crime."

I think "if a free man has committed the crime, the free man must be punished" makes a lot more sense, but I am not sure how he went from "the free for the free" to that.

Let me know what you think.

[Name Removed]
Resident Physician
: Re: Just Retribution
: Joseph Islam December 22, 2013, 02:17:17 AM
Wa alaikum assalam

I am not sure if I have understood your question properly. However, all the verse implies is the concept of just retribution and I do feel Muhammad Asad has captured the Arabic expression quite well. In other words, all are equal in the eyes of the Lord so whoever has committed the crime must suffer its consequence regardless of whether they are from the upper echelons of society, wealthy, powerful etc. The life of a slave is no different from the life of a prince. One is only distinguishable in the eyes of the Lord on account of their deeds.  However, there are certain caveats in place within the Quran's narratives when dealing with just retribution as I am sure you already know.

I hope that helps, God willing.
: Re: Just Retribution
: Reader Questions December 26, 2013, 03:29:52 PM
Salam Joseph,

Thank you for reply.

The issue with regard to the verse is that it seems to imply that one should kill an (innocent) free man if a free man is killed, an (innocent) slave if a slave is killed, etc.  I say this because the verse says: "the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the woman for the woman."

Traditional tafsirs actually follow from this understanding, claiming that it speaks of a verse revealed about a dispute during that time between two tribes.  One tribe wanted to retaliate by killing tens or hundreds of people for every free man killed, so this verse said that you can only kill in "equity", or one free man for one free man, one slave for one slave (killed), one woman for one woman (killed).

Of course, this translation and traditional understanding is problematic from a moral standpoint.  It seems to sanction the killing of innocent people in retaliation, which is of course 100% against Islam.

Muhammad Asad's understanding fixes the moral dilemma, but he doesn't really elaborate or prove his argument, where he talks about "the elliptical mode of expression (ijaz) so frequently employed in the Qur'an..."

That's where I was hoping you could elaborate.

: Re: Just Retribution
: Joseph Islam December 26, 2013, 03:33:24 PM
Wa alaikum assalam,

This phrase is not atypical and it is found elsewhere in the Quran. If we note the fundamental right of equal lawful retribution in the case of murder expressed in the Torah we note the Arabic expression, 'al nafsa bil nafsi' i.e. the life for the life. This expression is almost identical to those found in verse 2:178 and underscores the principle of interpretation which is that only the life responsible that has committed the murder must be held responsible. (The life for the life) Of course the Quran also allows for just compensation as mitigation so that life does not need to be taken as retribution (2:179).

Taking the life (or lives) of an innocent party in exchange of another as you rightly infer, is not a concept that can be supported by the Quran. Hence the Arabic phrases found in verse 2:178 are best understood from its own context, similar expressions found elsewhere in the Quran and primarily through the lens of the relevant underlying theological teachings of the Quran.

To strengthen this point, if in the relatively minor case of stealing, only the person responsible is to be held accountable (12:78-79), it is inconceivable that in the case of murder (where life is sacred) that anyone else but the guilty party is responsible.

“He said, God forbid! That we take anyone else except the one with whom we found our possession. Indeed, we then would surely be the wrongdoers” (12:79)

Equal retribution is not only the sine qua non of the Quran's teachings but of all God's scriptures. After all, the same fundamental 'deen' was inspired in all the Prophets (42:13) and the law of equal retribution can be found in earlier teachings.

"And We prescribed for them therein: The life for the life, and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and for wounds is retribution. But whoever forgoes it (in the way of charity) it shall be expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what God has revealed, then those are the wrong-doers."  (5:45)

Justice is only upheld if retaliation is meted out to the extent of the violation. This principle of justice is also seen in verse 16:26.

"And if you punish/ retaliate, then punish / retaliate with the like (bimith'li) of what you were afflicted. But if you endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient." (16:126)

Therefore in my humble opinion, a better rendition of verse 2:178 would be for example "If a free person has committed murder, that free person will face retribution" or "if a freeman is guilty then the freeman, if a slave is guilty then the slave, if a female is guilty, then the female" and so on.

Any secondary source which attempts to skew interpretation otherwise cannot be accepted in light of the Quran, which remains unequivocally the final criterion to judge.

I hope that helps, God willing.